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Cast Member Interview – Stephen – Food & Beverage

A very big thank you to Stephen for this awesome interview. I know so many CPs who aspire to work their way up the Disney ladder and at times it can seem almost impossible. Stephen started out as a regular college programmer and eventually became a manager before leaving Disney to work as an attorney. Check out his interview below.

When did you participate in the Disney College Program and what was your role?

I did the Spring Advantage program from January through August of 2003. My role was in Food and Beverage and my location was Liberty Inn which is in EPCOT in the American Adventure section of the World Showcase.

What did you like most about your role?
Well I actually started out hating it. Working in F&B can be, let’s say, not that glamorous. Being in the Spring Advantage Program, I quickly realized that the only way to make it through 8 months was to change my attitude about what I was doing. So I did. I started to really care about thing I ordinarily did not like to do. For example, in the beginning, I hated closing the kitchen at night. So part of my attitude change was getting really pumped up to close the kitchen. I took a lot of pride in the cleanliness of the fryers, I closed the dish-room in record time, oh that waste bin needs emptied? I’m you’re guy. Naturally, at first this required a great deal of faking it – grin and bear it sort of thing. But over time, maybe a month or so, I really did start to like what I was doing and took pride in my work. Managers started to notice too so I got trained in other more desirable areas and became the go-to-guy in the location. So I suppose what I liked most about the role was eventually I was given more responsibilities and it really allowed me to take an ownership interest in the location. That’s something that I will never forget and I’ve taken that learning forward with me to every job since.

What were the negative aspects of the job?

See above…i.e., closing the dish-room of an F&B location on the Fourth of July (you may have heard of me).

How would you describe a typical day?

My schedule was perfect. I lived in Vista Way (1404) and usually picked myself out of bed by 10am to hit the pool. I would start getting ready for work around 2:30 and made it to EPCOT by 4:00 each day. I made dreams come true until 11:30 or so at night – sometimes 11:00 if it was a good closing team, and then I would leave to hit Pleasure Island (sorry kids, but I think those clubs are gone). In any event, my schedule allowed me to sleep late and still have time to get out at night.

What advice would you give others who will be working in that the same role?

This kind of goes along with a previous question but the truth is that you have to put your best effort forth to enjoy what you do. F&B might not be your first choice, but if it is what you end up getting I would not let it stop you. Adopt a good work ethic and get good at what you do and you’ll find the work enjoyable. There are ups and downs with everything, but I promise you that if you maintain a positive attitude and really contribute, your efforts will be recognized.

Is there another role you wish you could’ve done instead?

I always thought that working at The Great Movie Ride would be fun. I met some cast members who worked there and they had a blast. I even heard that they do a formal event at the end of the year to give each other awards!

What housing complex did you live in and did you like it?

Vista Way. Loved it. Don’t kid yourself – this place is the marquis, legendary living establishment of the College Program. It just is. Yes it is old and in some cases grimey – but the place is an icon. You will have a great time, you will meet lots of people, you will attend fantastic parties. The other newer complexes can have their nice carpets and couches, I’ll take the atmosphere at Vista any day of the week.

Is there anything you wish you would’ve known ahead of time?

Having a car is extremely helpful. Having room-mates is very helpful because it opens the door to meeting more people. Also getting to know people in Entertainment and Attractions was very useful. I got special attention at parades and was able to stay on rides for a second ride-through very often just by knowing people who worked there. I can’t stress enough how important relationships are in Disney. Disney World is a big place but keep in mind that many people you meet during your College Program will stay and work at Disney afterwards. That being said, if you plan on making a career at Disney, you will run into many of these folks again. Do your best to build and maintain good relationships with people.

Overall, what are your thoughts about the Disney College Program experience?

It was a wonderful experience for me on all fronts. I took advantage of the classes that were offered and I also picked up extra shifts at other locations which really helped me make the most of my time there.

Did you initially stay with the company after your college program or did you return home?

I returned to the University of Pittsburgh in August of 2003. I came back down and lived in Vista again for the Summer of 2004 in what they called a “CP Alumni Program.” I graduated from Pitt in 2005 and accepted a management internship with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. After 6 months of managing Tusker House I was asked to come over to Magic Kingdom to work at Pinocchio’s Village Haus. After five months I was offered a job managing Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. A year later I was moved over to Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn & Café. I left the company in 2009 to pursue law school and now I am a tax attorney in Miami who regularly visits old Disney stomping grounds.

Where did you work as a manager and how did you get the job?

I started out on a management internship with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This happened because I stayed in regular contact with my managers from my College Program. This goes back to building and maintaining relationships. One of those managers clued me into the management internship program and wrote a letter of recommendation for me and I was in. Once I got that internship, I made sure that I built a relationship with my new boss and hit everything he wanted right out of the park. He appreciated my efforts and put me in touch with leaders over in Magic Kingdom who thought of me when an opening came available. The rest is history.

What advice would you give to others who aspire to work in management?

Above all else – processes are managed and people are led. In management your first and most important order of business is the cast members. I made sure that I introduced myself to every single cast member the day I started each new location. Every day I went into work, I did not begin my shift until I greeted every single cast member. This may seem simple, but trust me, this is crucial. In management you live and die by the cast members. I could go on and on but for the sake of space just take care of the cast members and they will take care of you. In order for them to come to the job and make dreams come true for you, they have to be comfortable with you and they have to know that you have their back at all times. Cast first, the rest will follow.

Do you think your experience at Disney has help you in your current career as an attorney?

There is no doubt about it. First and foremost, the College Program helped me learn about responsibility and accountability. Every CP is shocked about the amount of policies and procedures the company has in place because it’s not something that most of us have been exposed to before. On the positive side though, it is a useful and transferrable skill to understand responsibility and accountability. Second, the College Program really helped me practice building and maintaining crucial relationships. From getting to know fellow CPs to senior leadership in the company, the ability to foster relationships is key to success. Finally, as an attorney, I have clients that I work for. As we all know, there are a lot of attorneys out there – so it is important for attorneys to distinguish themselves from the pack somehow. As a CP, we are taught that Disney culture is all about exceeding expectations. When a guest has a problem or some issue, you as a CP, are empowered to resolve the guest’s problem and turn their negative into a positive. We don’t just meet expectations at Disney, we exceed them. I have brought this mentality forward to my career as a lawyer. I strive each and every day to exceed what my clients expect of me. It’s not quite the same as replacing a dropped ice-cream without being asked or setting up a meet & greet for a kid who only wants to meet Mickey – but the idea is very much the same and people on the receiving end of that kind of attitude never forget it.

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